From Publishers Weekly
Eight years after his college hockey career ended and two years after a successful brain surgery, Baker, a writer for U.S. Weekly, decided to try to play professional hockey for the first time. After working out at recreational rinks, he made the jump to a low-level minor-league team as an emergency goalie, in the oil-town of Bakersfield, Calif., (surprisingly, a hockey hotbed), for a team willing to take him on in the name of research. In a style that is equal parts George Plimpton-gonzo and Rocky Balboa-triumphalism, the author spends much of the book chronicling the culture of the team and his intense desire to play on it. Indeed, he gets almost no ice time; the story derives its suspense not from the question "how he will play?" but the question "will they ever let him play?". Yet Baker's account maintains a powerful narrative thrust, thanks to the neat structure of a professional sports season and the author's appealing psychological candor. Baker also shows great range-the characters on his team are colorful and the descriptions of life at the lowest echelons of professional sports are as poignant as they are startling. Though he lets in a few cheap lines (he has a tendency toward the maudlin as well as toward locker-room and self-help clichés, and he mentions his brain tumor so often it starts to feel calculating), the narrative remains touching and surprisingly effective.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Hockey exerts a mesmerizing hold on its participants and fans, as exploits like Baker's attest. Once a highly touted high-school player, considered a strong possibility for the U.S. Olympic team, goalie Baker's pro hockey aspirations were forestalled during college by a brain tumor. After his recovery, the allure of the fast-paced hockey world surged within him again. He took a break from a budding journalism career to give hockey a last shot, joining the minor-league Bakersfield (California) Condors. And he was back in that strange but serene world between the pipes, blocking biscuit-sized pieces of hard rubber hurtling at him at speeds up to 100 mph. Ah, sports bliss! Baker's story conjures the spirit of another great tale of boisterous minor-league hockey, the movie Slap Shot
, but possessed of the old-pro-in-the-minor-leagues charm of that classic baseball flick, Bull Durham
. Better than celluloid by virtue of being a professional writer's true story, Baker's tale of an old goalie's last stab at playing in the NHL is one of the sports books of the year. Mike TribbyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved